While browsing through a magazine archive, I came across a few intriguing news articles on Lloyd Hamilton.
Let's begin our examination of these articles by going back to September 17, 1915. An article published in Variety at that time addressed the status of Charlie Chaplin in relationship to other film comedians. The journalist wrote, "Next to Chaplin, who is miles ahead of any others, the most popular film comedians at present are Billie Ritchie and Lloyd Hamilton." It is curious that the author of this article failed to mention Roscoe Arbuckle, who was immensely popular at the time. But, then, a similar comment appeared in Motion Picture News on October 2, 1915: "Reports. . . say that Charlie Chaplin is getting more popular every day there. He is way ahead of everybody else in popularity, with Billie Ritchie, of Universal, and Lloyd Hamilton, of the Ham and Bud films, next in line." Regardless of Arbuckle's absence from this group, we can take this as proof that Hamilton was highly regarded early on in his film career
The press liked to pose Hamilton and Chaplin as inexhaustible rivals. Take for instance the following entry that turned up in Motion Picture magazine in April, 1918:
"[Lloyd Hamilton] has a five-weeks' vacation. . . and has been out every morning on the Griffith Park golf links, walking over eighteen holes, chasing the elusive ball. Lloyd expects to get in good form very shortly, so he can hook up with Charlie Chaplin in a match game."
Motion Picture (May, 1918)
"Lloyd Hamilton entertained Louis Bennison, star of 'Johnny Get Your Gun,' while the latter was playing at the Majestic Theater in Los Angeles. 'Ham' and Bennison were kids together, and used to have their own theater and company, composed of themselves and a few other kids in the neighborhood. 'Ham' took Bennison out to the Fox studios to see some scenes taken, after which the legitimate star decided that the stage was much safer for one's being than the motion picture game."
This news item is not completely accurate. Both actors did grow up in Oakland, but Bennison was nine years older than Hamilton, which makes it unlikely that they would have been "kids together" as the author indicates. It is possible, however, that the men had worked together in the same stage companies in Oakland and San Francisco.
Despite his success as a stage actor, Bennison could not have been too averse to the "motion picture game." Not long after this news item was written, the actor starred in a series of film westerns for Betzwood Studios. He became known to fans as "The Smilin' Cowboy."
It is no surprise that Bennison was a heavy drinker. Hamilton only had friends who were heavy drinkers. It was due to their fondness for the bottle that that neither of these Oakland boys had a long or happy life. In 1929, Bennison drunkenly used his cowboy revolver to fatally shoot his mistress and himself. Film historian Joseph Eckhardt wrote, "After what may have been several days of hard drinking —forty empty gin bottles were found — Bennison had shot Margaret Lawrence while she slept, then turned the gun on himself. Pinned to the door between the living room and kitchen was a nearly illegible note in Bennison’s handwriting: 'The sunset has a heart. Look for us there.'" An article about the complete incident can be found at https://mc3betzwood.wordpress.com/actors/louis-bennison/. I recommend that you navigate through the entire website, which is devoted to the Betzwood Studios. Mr. Eckhardt has done excellent work putting the site together. I am in receipt of Mr. Eckhardt's new book, Living Large, which I will review in the near future.
The circumstances of Bennison's death lie in sharp contrast to the actor's Hollywood image. This man was not the gentle, caring and cheerful individual that he portrayed in his films.
Motography (July 13, 1918)
"Lloyd Hamilton is now on his fifth Sunshine comedy for William Fox, and is again appearing without his mustache. He liked playing without it much more than when he wore it after viewing his last Sunshine Comedy, so decided that he would abandon it altogether."
Hamilton got a surprising amount of press attention for discarding his large stage mustache. At the time, a film comedian's trademark mustache was invaluable.
The Film Daily (November 1, 1920)
Review of The Simp: "Some really funny comedy business is of considerable value to this issue of the Mermaid series which generally holds up in reasonably good style. There are several novel gags included and the action throughout is fast. The manner in which Lloyd Hamilton pours water out of his shoe continually is the first big laugh, and thereafter they keep coming as a satisfactory rate. The scene in which the cat enters the 'cukoo' [sic] clock is of merit and adds a touch that will score anywhere. Another bit that will provoke mirth is that in which the thief starts to appropriate some of the funds collected at the gospel meeting and by causing "Ham" to remain unconscious, moves his hands in and out of the box in such a manner as to give the impression that the latter is responsible for what happens. There is considerable splashing and spilling of water."
It was unusual at the time for a critic to single out so many gags in a comedy. These gags were unique enough and funny enough to have left a strong impression on the critic. The "hands" gag that he mentions is the classic "Lazzo of the Hands Behind the Back."
Motion Picture News (April 21, 1923)
"Lloyd Hamilton has completely recovered from his attack of flu, which laid the big comedian low immediately on completion of F. O. B., his next picture on the Educational program. Hamilton was confined to his bed for ten days, but is now able to supervise the cutting and titling of this picture."
The "cutting and titling" reference is the significant part of this story. At his prime, Hamilton was not just an actor for hire. He was involved in every aspect of filmmaking from story development to editing. The top comedians of the silent era were complete filmmakers.
|Roscoe Arbuckle in the cutting room|
Exhibitors Herald (April 5, 1924)
Roy L. Dowling of the Ozark Theatre in Alabama had unfavorable words for Lloyd Hamilton's Uneasy Feet (1923). "Just fair," he wrote. "Lloyd doesn't bring the laughs like he used to. Come on, Lloyd, give us one like you used to. You can do it."
Hamilton set high standards with his previous work. Many of his ardent fans expected the best from him and they were disappointed if they didn't get it.
Variety (October 5, 1927)
"'What Happened to Mrs. Flora Abrams' Flapper Doll?' will be the title of a story. Lloyd Hamilton, screen comedian, will have a chance to explain in court, according to a suit filed against him in municipal court by Mrs. Abrams, his landlady. The doll, worth about $3, is included in a list of articles alleged missing from Mrs. Abrams' home at 8287 Santa Monica boulevard after she rented the house to the comedian. Mrs. Abrams is asking $237 which she alleges Hamilton owes her for unpaid electric light and gas bills, cleaning, breakage and other things."
This was one of many lawsuits that plagued Hamilton in the later years of his life.